Thursday, 26 March 2015
This is the last time I will have the honour of addressing the Australian Senate. While of course I am very sad to be leaving, the overwhelming sense I have is one of gratitude and thanks—sincere thanks to have been given the greatest honour and the greatest privilege of my life, to sit with my colleagues in this place. I still come in here and look around—it is not that I am not paying attention, Mr President—but sometimes I think I have been kissed by a rainbow. There is nothing very special about me, but I have been very lucky. I am sad to leave but I am very thankful to have been here.
I want to say two things in my final contribution in this place: thank you and goodbye. I will start with thankyou. Thank you, of course, first to my family—to my mother Beverley, my brothers David and Richard and sister Kathryn, and my eldest nephew Alexander, thank you for your love and support. I am not quite sure whether you ever thought that going into politics was a good idea for me but I keep thinking of my late father. When I was a little boy he was a newsagent and there were three professions that he particularly disliked—lawyers, academics and politicians! Fortunately my dear mother was much more understanding. To all my Canberra mates who I grew up with, thank you so much for the pizza and the coffee and the red wine and the beer and the steaks at the Kingo. Thanks too to my mate Jack Fisher. All of us who work here in this parliament owe a lot to those who make our working life much easier. Senate transport—Peter and Ian: thank God, no more 6.05 am pick-ups from Bruce to the Senate. They are tired of them, and perhaps I am as well.
There are sound and vision and Hansard. I have a particular relationship with sound and vision, Mr President, as you know. I love them but my love has never been reciprocated. I have got into a lot of trouble in recent times for being perhaps a little bit too voluble. My defence has always been that that was how I used to lecture to my students. That wicked Senator Ludwig would say, 'Brett, that is why no-one ever came to your lectures, or if they did that is why they are deaf.' I can now reveal some secrets because I have been reminded that this is the last time I can speak under privilege. I remember you, Mr President, pulling me aside when you were Deputy President and saying, 'Brett, if you don't tone it down, we are going to slap across your face a sticker saying "OH&S noncompliant".' But thank you to sound and vision—I will miss you, you will not miss me.
I love the Senate attendants dearly but I have been asking for 15 years for a gin and tonic to get me through question time, and I still have not got one. To Dr Rosemary Laing, the Clerk of the Senate, and her team, I thank you so much. Rosemary will never admit this, but I used to work with the Senate Clerk a long, long time ago. She denies it of course, saying 'The bloke just looked like you.' I am not quite sure whether Rosemary was my last supervisor at the Attorney-General's Department many years ago, but my final supervisor's report, which was very short, read: 'Brett John Mason: Not amenable to instruction.' Rosemary, if it was you, I do not hold it against you because every Liberal leader since John Howard would agree with you.
I thank all those who have helped me with my political career, first and foremost the people of the great state of Queensland. All senators from Queensland would be aware that we are often accused of being rough diamonds. That might be so but, just like them, if you cut and polish us the right way—isn't this right, Larissa?—we sparkle. My thanks go to those who gave me a mere chance when few did, starting with the then Liberal Party president Bob Carroll all the way through to the LNP president Bruce McIver, vice president Gary Spence and state director Brad Henderson and all the team. From the very beginning I have been very lucky to have the greatest possible support from the youth movement of our party, both the Young Libs originally and then the Young Liberal National Party, and also the student clubs from Matt Boland and Gerard Paynter through to Rod Schneider, Ben Riley and Luke Barnes. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
For all my faults, I have had wonderful staff over the last 15 years, and all of us who serve in this place know that without your staff you are nothing. I am so very grateful to all those I have worked with. Four people who have worked in my office have gone into politics. Of course they are all much better politicians than me—including the member for Moncrieff and now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who stole my portfolio, Mr Ciobo—he was always a very cunning employee! Of course Saxon Rice was on the front bench of Campbell Newman's government, Adrian Schrinner is Deputy Lord Mayor of Brisbane and of course there is the member for Bonner, Ross Vasta. Thanks to all those who ran my office—Robyn, Patrick, Ted, Tim, Paul, John and Alex—and thanks to those who still work with me, Phoebe, Mitch, Jack and Emma. Thanks to all those others who have put up with me.
I just cannot let this moment go by without thanking the poor guy who had to put up with me for about 13½ of the last 15 years, and many of my colleagues here know him—Dr Arthur Chrenkoff.
You are right, Leader, to say 'Hear, hear!' All my colleagues respected Arthur much more than they respected me. Every time people came into the office they were never after me, they were always after Arthur. Arthur's story is really Australia's achievement. He came to Australia from pre-Solidarity Poland as a 16-year-old, and he could not say a word of English—although he did tell me the other day that he could say 'Hi'—but within two years he was the dux of his high school.
He then went to law school at the University of Queensland and he was near the top of his class. He did a PhD. He is extremely smart, and everyone asks, 'Why the hell, Brett, if he is that smart did he end up working with you?' I ask myself that all the time, but I am so very grateful that he did. Not only did he lift me out of the difficult times in politics—which all of us have; all of us share that—but he also gave great purpose to politics. He tried to give me poise, but he never quite managed that. But he gave politics great purpose, and I can never thank him enough.
I should also thank the Prime Minister for his grace and good humour over the last few weeks—I suspect he had other things to deal with, but he has been very, very good to with me—and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for giving me the most enjoyable job of my life. Just after the ministry was decided, I received a call from Julie Bishop. Julie said, 'Brett, you've been offered the second best job in government.' I had been in politics a while and my cynical ears went up—but do you know what? Julie was right. It was the most enjoyable job I have ever, ever had. To work with Julie and to represent our beautiful country overseas was a great honour.
I must say that it all started rather well. I had just got off the plane coming back from Canberra and the phone rang and it was the foreign minister, it was Julie: 'Brett, what are you doing Thursday at lunch time?' I said, 'I'm very busy here in Brisbane. I am extremely busy. I have briefings to attend and I have no time for anything'—no time for idle chatter. Julie said, 'I need someone to go Sydney to have lunch with Angelina Jolie. Brad is stuck in LA and can't make it.' I went, 'Well, let me just check my diary; I think I can squeeze her in.' I remember thinking to myself as I got into the car, 'This is definitely going to be the portfolio for me!'
When I was a little boy, about five years old, I remember running across a car park and I was being chased by three women. That has not happened in a while! Actually, they were three nuns in full habits. It was 1960s Australia. They were bearing down on me like the fleet air arm of the Ursuline nuns. They caught me in the end and I remember being carried back to my primary school and thinking, 'Oh, dear, my brief life is over and I will no doubt be buried in some lonely corner of the schoolyard and never heard from again—or, worse still, the nuns will call my parents.'
I remember sitting outside the office of Mother Superior, Sister Bede, while she phoned my poor mother. Sister Gerard sat down next to me—she was my teacher—and said, 'Brett, good little boys do not stab nuns with pencils. Do not do that.' I will never forget what she did next. She sat next to me and said, 'Whenever you feel angry or frustrated or scared, just remember you have a guardian angel sitting on your left shoulder,' and I remember thinking, 'Umm, a guardian angel on my left shoulder.' I was very small and I was very skinny, but I was also very cunning. I thought to myself, 'Maybe I can train this guardian angel to wreak havoc on the nuns'—but I was told that that was not part of God's plan. But there have been a couple of times in my political career when I have looked across to my left shoulder and thought, 'Mate, wake up; I need a bit of help here.'
I remember very well October 2003 and the 12-month anniversary of the Bali bombing. I am sure many senators would remember that. The commemorative service was held in the Great Hall, and who should sit next to me at the service but Senator John Faulkner, who was then Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, during the Howard government. He sat next to me and said, 'I hear you are having some trouble, Comrade,' and I said, 'Yes, John.' He said, 'I'll give you some advice. In this game and in life sometimes you need a bit of scar tissue. It looks to me like you don't have very much of it. When you have that you will be a much better politician and a much better person. You will be able to take disappointments rather better and you won't get knocked out with the first punch.' I will never forget that. From that time on—about a dozen years ago—politics has always looked up for me, and I thank John for that.
For many years I was very lucky to share a unit with Peter Costello and Richard Alston—whom many will remember—and then of course Senator Colbeck. I remember Peter Costello telling me, 'It's a sad truth, Brett, but there are many lonely people in parliament—too many lonely people.' Well, I can honestly say that I have never found parliament lonely—never for a second. From the time I first entered this place I have been sustained by marvellous Liberal colleagues—and I mean that; sustained—and I will miss all of them, every one of them, ably led of course by Senator Abetz. I think the Liberal senators are quite a handsome bunch, perhaps led by the Queenslanders. The Senate is different. It is a special place. There is no elected chamber in this country that is so rich in its camaraderie, and that makes us, all of us, different. I was very, very lucky to be elected to this chamber.
Right in front of me I have a note: 'For God's sake, don't forget the Nats!'—because I would not want Senator Cameron to remind me! Well, how could I ever forget the Nats?—given that I am now half a Nat myself, as a member of the LNP. Of course, in recent times there has been a concerted effort, led by Senator O'Sullivan, with Senator Canavan and Senator McKenzie and others, who have tried to reinvent me as an inner-urban Nat. Sadly, Barry, the makeover failed. I am not sure, but perhaps the French eau de Cologne did not go with the R.M.Williams boots! Or it might have been the patent leather shoes and the shearing sheds. Nonetheless, thanks for trying. It is a funny thing, but I have always got on with the National Party, from when I first arrived. Senator Nash, Senator Scullion, Senator Williams: thank you so much. You have been wonderful colleagues. I know you wanted me to be the Nat from Newstead, but I am remaining the Tory from Teneriffe.
I want to do something perhaps a bit unusual. I would like to pay tribute also to the opposition and the crossbenchers. Never once in more than 15 years has there ever been a cross word from the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens or the crossbenchers to me outside this chamber—ever, not once, in 15½ years. And I sort of think that the forbearance of you and your team, Senator Wong, is quite miraculous, really, given that I have been at times rather loud, volatile and sometimes extremely naughty, and we have been involved in some very big debates. I want to thank you, Senator Wong, and Senator Milne and the Greens, for always treating me with the greatest courtesy outside this chamber. And to the crossbenchers: many of you are new, and initially I noticed this great bafflement and bewilderment but in recent times a greater savvy and a great scepticism of politics and government. It is not always a bad thing.
I am very lucky to still be here. In 2010 I was elected, the sixth senator elected for Queensland, on a very fine distribution of preferences. I was very, very lucky to be elected. It was very difficult, because the minor parties, very naughtily, were cross-preferencing each other, and it looked rather grim. When I saw Ron Boswell this morning—apparently he wants my casual vacancy!—he said, 'The transition will be seamless.' Ron, in his typical fashion—you know what he is like—rang me up and said: 'Brett, I've looked at the figures, and you're buggered. You're stuffed. You're not going to win.' And I said, 'Oh, thanks.' He said: 'But look, I'll tell you what: leave it with me and I'll speak to Reverend Nile and the Christian democrats and some of the Christian groups and I'll see what I can do for you. Just hold on.' Well, Ron did that, and Senator Joyce, as he then was—now the member for New England—helped, and a few others, who cannot be named, stepped in to assist. And I did receive the preferences of the Christian democrats, and I want to thank Reverend Nile for that—a lot. Of course, I also, quite awkwardly, received the preferences of the Australian Sex Party. God works in mysterious ways! I am never quite sure. But I should take this opportunity to thank Fiona Patten, who did seem to get the joke. I think Ms Patten is now a member of the legislative council—
A government senator: In Victoria.
Yes, in Victoria. That is right. I remember waking up very tired and very emotional on the Sunday after the August 2010 election. It was a very close election, as senators will recall. It was before seven in the morning, and I had had a big night, and on my telephone were five missed calls. Who do you think would be ringing me with five missed calls by 10 to seven in the morning? Ron Boswell. I phoned him back, and he was screaming: 'Have you won? Have you won?' I said: 'Well, apparently, yes. The ABC website's predicting that the LNP will pick up three senators—just.' He said: 'See? All my work with the Christian groups got you across the line.' Sadly, I had to inform Ron that it was slightly more complicated than that, and that the final distribution of preferences—the reason I was finally elected—were from the Australian Sex Party. There was this awkward silence on the phone. He said, 'For God's sake, Brett, don't tell anyone!' I said, 'Well, it is on the ABC website, Ron.' Ron was quite emotional and quite distressed. He said, 'Look, there are only two things for it; you've got to do two things straightaway.' I asked, 'What's that?' And he said, 'First of all, ring up your mother and tell her you've been re-elected as a senator for Queensland.' I said, 'Okay; I'll do that straightaway, Ron.' He said, 'Secondly, go straight to church, get down on your knees and beg God for forgiveness.'
I have spent 15 years going to the gym every morning—even though it does not look like it! And on my way back to my office I often look across to the National Museum of Australia, which some senators may know was of course formerly the site of the Royal Canberra Hospital, where I was born. I was reflecting on that the other day, and I thought, 'God—imagine being over 50 years old and having come only a couple of hundred metres across the lake.' I thought to myself, 'It's not much of a life.'
In parliament today we are blessed by having senators from all around the world, from all the continents, who have made their way here, some from Europe and North America, some from Asia and some from just across the lake. But we are all here really for the same cause. It is to imagine or reimagine a better Australia. That is why we are here, and I want all my Senate colleagues to know that, even though I will no longer be here, I will continue to dream that dream with you, always.
Mr President, it has been the greatest privilege, the greatest honour, of my life to serve in this place. It really has been. It is an honour that will never be exceeded. But what has made it such a very great pleasure is the support, the camaraderie and the good humour of all my fellow senators. Mr President, I thank you so much, Sir; and to all my colleagues: thank you and goodbye.